FLASHBACK: Hollywood, the Internet and the Poor: No Disconnect Necessary (By Robert Townsend)

Hollywood, the Internet and the Poor: No Disconnect Necessary

By Robert Townsend
Huffington Post
August 13, 2009

First and foremost, the entertainment industry's job is to entertain. That's why we call it entertainment.

What many people don't realize is that those of us in television and films have addressed a wide range of issues -- education, family planning, health, safety, emergency response, and so on. When we get it right, people receive critical information while being entertained. As an industry, we should be proud of that, but there's more we can do. And right now, resources are available to do it while also seizing the moment to improve lives.

Today, the entertainment industry is largely overlooking the most powerful distribution vehicle available: the Internet. It's a portal to personalized, localized content, all retrieved in a few short clicks. But millions of people aren't seeing the content as relevant and, as a result, they are not connected to broadband at home.

The Obama administration believes in the Internet's power to restore the economy. In fact, more than $7 billion of stimulus funds has been allocated to help bring broadband to low-income and "underserved" populations. But the truth of the matter is, without relevant, engaging content, Internet access won't deliver to its full potential. It doesn't take much to figure out that supply without demand is pointless.

That's where the entertainment industry comes in. We know how to create demand, rivet attention and engage audiences. What we know and what we do can transform lives and change the world for the better.

The need for relevant, engaging content became apparent to me when I teamed up with a global nonprofit called One Economy that leverages the power of technology to enable low-income people to improve their lives. Together we've produced a series called Diary of a Single Mom for the Public Internet Channel. The subject is something I know a lot about. I was raised by a single mom myself and there were plenty of tough times growing up. It's fiction that is meant to be inspiring and sometimes funny, but always reflective of the realities millions of women face every day.

This is what economic recovery looks like -- empowering underserved individuals by providing the necessary and relevant information for them to make tangible and life-altering choices. These choices will lead to lasting and sustainable economic and social mobility, and ultimately bring rise to a vibrant economy.

The entertainment industry has an opportunity to create a sea of change in the way people experience the Internet and the information they extract from it. The underlying concepts of this are not new.

Most folks hadn't heard of designated drivers before Cheers, LA Law and a hundred other shows featured them. Likewise, more than 60 percent of ER viewers reported watching the show to obtain medical information -- perhaps a testament to the fact that more people have access to television than to health care. And few would dispute the power of story-telling, specifically through An Inconvenient Truth, to raise large-scale awareness of climate change.

The opportunity lies in what our creative community can do to ensure that broadband access is accompanied by meaningful content. We can use this opportunity to advance partnerships with innovative organizations working on-the-ground and in communities to deliver relevant, meaningful and entertaining broadband Internet content. These partnerships can help people to change their lives. At the same time, they enable us to reach new audiences and demographics. It's a win-win.

As an industry, Hollywood is in a position to develop new creati

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